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How to build immunity in 6 easy steps

How to build immunity in 6 easy steps

Team ErbologyErbology

Supporting your immune system in its efforts to stave off germs has never been more important. Let's take a look at how to build immunity in six easy ways - no supplements, tablets or medicines required.

January 15, 2021 1:46 pm

Life constantly throws new surprises at us. Figuring out the solutions to new problems and learning new ways to succeed is all part of the fun.

However, life is constantly throwing surprises at your immune system, too! Whenever you come into contact with a new germ, it has to mount a brand new immune response. Over time, it will learn to recognise some of the more familiar germs. But, chances are your immune system will go on discovering new things for as long as you will.

Unfortunately, that means that there isn’t one simple answer to keeping your immune system healthy. If only it were as easy as taking a supplement each morning… But your immune system is ever-changing and constantly adapting. One tablet won’t cut the mustard.

That said, fortunately there are a few general rules which can help to support your immune system as it battles with germs. The best thing is that they are all simple and easy changes to make to your routine.

1. Sleep!

When you’re tired, the smallest problems balloon and feel insurmountable. It’s a state of mind we all recognise and most of us know it as ‘stress’.

This is why we so often hear the advice to ‘sleep on’ tough decisions, or to review tricky problems in the morning. We’re simply better able to cope with difficult situations after a good night’s rest.

Sleeping well also affects your diet, as when you’re well rested you tend to experience fewer cravings for high-sugar, high-energy foods to keep you going.

What’s more, sleep seems to have a direct effect on how well you can fight off germs. The results of a recent German study show how this works on a molecular level.

If you remember from our previous articles ‘What is immunity?’ and ‘How to stay healthy in winter‘, one of the many specialist cells involved in immunity is the T-lymphocyte. The German researchers looked at how sleep affects these special cells, which destroy invading germs. To do this, they need to be able to locate and ‘stick’ to the cells in your body which have been attacked by pathogens. For example, these pathogens might include the viruses which cause flu, HIV, herpes and some cancers.

The researchers found that stress hormones reduce T-lymphocytes’ ability to ‘stick’ to other cells.(1) This makes them less able to destroy bugs and protect you from disease.

However, when you sleep well, your stress hormone levels decrease. This gives your T-lymphocytes the best opportunity to get rid of unwanted visitors.

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2. Eat a rainbow

Not only does it make a beautiful plate, but a rainbow of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help you to build immunity, too.

Opting for a varied diet across the colour spectrum is the best way to make sure your body is getting a little of everything. Whole foods of different colours are more likely to provide you with a full palette of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. To put it simply, the more varied your diet of natural whole foods, the more likely you are to be supplying your immune system with the building blocks it needs to protect you.

Eating well provides your body with the resources it needs to build strong, new cells. But research has also backed up something that we all know intuitively. People who don’t eat a nutritionally complete diet are more vulnerable to infections.(2) What’s more, when they do fall ill, they tend to get sicker for longer.

So, make like a Skittle and aim to taste the rainbow on every plate! → View Related Products

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cashew cheese crackers

3. Drink a river of water, herbal teas, and healthy broths

It’s sometimes helpful to think of your blood as a river which runs around your body. It carries essential nutrients to the right place, helps your cells carry out vital processes, and washes away toxins, viruses and bacteria. It’s crucial to make sure you’re drinking lots of fluids to help your blood carry out the vital function of flushing away anything that might damage your cells.

The kidneys, which are in charge of getting rid of toxins, also work better when you stay well hydrated.

Water also helps our brains make melatonin, a hormone which promotes sleep. We’ve already seen just how important sleep is to maintaining the immune system.

Furthermore, water is important for producing lymph, a clear fluid which runs through the lymphatic system alongside your blood vessels. Lymph helps to cleanse the body, and is key to good immunity. The special fluid helps to collect up bacteria and carry it to your lymph nodes, which then do away with these unwelcome invaders.

Don’t forget your mucous membranes, too. Your eyes, nose and mouth all need water to produce mucous. This sticky substance traps any passing nasties in the environment and protects you from the disease they might cause.(3) → View Related Products

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aloe vera cocktail

'Mindful meditation appears to have a positive effect on several key processes in our immune systems.'

4. Keep moving…

Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing if you’re worried about being unwell, but moving around is wonderful preventive medicine.

When you think about it, exercise is quite logically connected to immunity. We know that exercise improves your general fitness and cardiovascular health, can help you manage your weight and lower your blood pressure. All of these things contribute to overall good health, which in turn supports good immunity.

Fortunately, we don’t need to be world class athletes to see the effect. One study done by the American Journal of Medicine found that women who went for a thirty minute walk daily had half the number of colds as women that didn’t!(4)

5. …and keep still.

We often hear that life is about balance. Healthy movement is great for the body, but a moment of stillness certainly has its benefits, too.

While there needs to be further scientific research into how meditation supports immunity, studies have suggested that it may have a real effect.(5)

A recent review of 20 randomised controlled trials involving more than 1600 people found that there was a positive link between mindful meditation and immunity. Specifically, this kind of meditation appeared to have a positive effect on several key processes in our immune systems. Among these were cell-mediated immunity, biological ageing, and inflammation.

 

meditation

6. Do it all in a positive environment

Not all of us are lucky enough to have much choice about where we live. But no matter where you live and how much money you do or do not have, you can almost certainly make your space a positive place in which to live.

There are a few things that instantly create a soothing environment. Open the curtains and let in lots of natural light. If that isn’t possible, consider investing in a lamp which replicates natural light.

Make the time to declutter. Not only will this make you feel more in control, it’ll also give you more freedom to use the space you have to best effect.

Try bringing a little bit of nature into your space with plants and flowers. If you’re not particularly green-fingered, don’t worry; there are lots of indoor plant varieties which require very minimal tending.

We love to light a scented candle to help us relax, but they can be a bit on the expensive side. So, a more affordable and natural option is to make your own room sprays. Simply place 5-10 drops of essential oils, such as lavender, pine, tea tree, peppermint or cinnamon, into some water in a spray bottle or diffuser.

You could also make steam inhalations with dried herbs possessing antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties. Thyme and sage are both excellent choices here. Simply add them to 4 cups of boiling water in a bowl, put a towel over your head and breathe in the steam for 5-7 minutes to clear your head and lungs.

All of these things can make a real difference to your stress levels and thus, to your immune system.(6)

Wise words

The scientist Dr. Esther Sternberg has conducted extensive research, qualitative and quantitative, into the notion of healing places.

Her conclusion is that our emotions have a powerful effect on our immune systems – for bad or for good. To quote the World Health Organisation’s official definition, it is worth remembering that health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well‐being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”(7) And they are not an organisation to take these things lightly.

In short, don’t be reactive about your immunity, stopping to think about it only when you feel unwell. Instead, nourish and care for it constantly, as it always cares for you!

Here’s to true health, beauty, and an appreciation for our ever-changing immune system.

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  • (1) Dimitrov et al, “Gαs-coupled receptor signaling and sleep regulate integrin activation of human antigen-specific T cells”, Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2019.

    (2) Wu et al, “Nutritional Modulation of Immune Function: Analysis of Evidence, Mechanisms, and Clinical Relevance”, Frontiers in Immunology, 2019.

    (3) Popkin et al, “Water, Hydration and Health”, Nutrition Reviews, 2011.

    (4) Chubak et al, “Moderate-Intensity Exercise Reduces the Incidence of Colds Among Postmenopausal Women”, The American Journal of Medicine, 2006.

    (5) Black, David S. and Slavich, George M. “Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials”, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2016.

    (6) Morey et al, “Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function”, Current Opinion in Psychiatry,  2015.

    (7) Sternberg, Dr. Esther, “Healing Spaces”, Harvard University Press, 2010.

    Photo credits: Tyler Nix, ika dam, Stephanie Greene.

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